The world’s premier MMA promotion make their return this weekend at UFC Vegas 15, once again in the Apex. The bill will be topped by a compelling heavyweight bout with potential title implications, sporting two juggernauts whose styles are truly the antithesis of each other. Curtis “Razor” Blaydes and his wrestling dominance meet the heavy-handed and hard-nosed style of Texan brawler, Derrick Lewis.
Blaydes (14-2) is coming into this fight winning his last 4, all in dominant fashion. Although he has looked impeccable in his recent outings, a crack at the belt always seems to evade him, his only two losses being at the hands of heavy-handed titan Francis Ngannou who remains in front of the queue. Being a heavy favorite in this matchup and having a very anti-Lewis style, I can only help but think a dominant victory here doesn’t do much for Blaydes in the realm of title opportunities. There won’t be many contenders left at all and I think it’d just be a case of waiting for Ngannou to have his 2nd crack at the belt before coming in and fighting who’s next, whether that be a trilogy with Francis or a long-awaited chance at the reigning king, Stipe Miocic.
Lewis (24-7) comes into this main event with something to prove. He has amassed 3 straight victories outside the top 5 after a tough outing against Junior Dos Santos and a failed title attempt against former champ, Daniel Cormier. The odds certainly aren’t in the Black Beasts’ favor but a win here would certainly do wonders, not only would he take out a man in pole position for a crack at the title, but he already holds a win over current number 1 contender Francis Ngannou. A man with the power Lewis possesses is always an imminent threat in heavyweight MMA and so I wouldn’t be so quick to write him off as many fans have done already. I mean come on, you don’t have the most knockouts in UFC heavyweight history for nothing.
Stylistically, as far as heavyweight MMA goes predominant grapplers are few and far between, Curtis Blaydes however is an exception to this rule. His wrestling is suffocating, and his ground and pound are venomous, Blaydes’ wrestling background has seen him run rampant in the UFC’s heavyweight division ever since his arrival in 2016. His style opposes essentially every opponent he faces and the majority of the heavyweight division don’t have anywhere near the level of wrestling base he has, thus when he grabs a hold of someone and slams them to the mat, that’s it for the remainder of the round. He then employs his elbowing throwing antics to bash and brutalize his opponents to force the stoppage. A tactic which has been somewhat synonymous with his name yet seemingly can’t be easily prevented. Curtis however is by no means a one trick pony. His striking game has come along tremendously in recent months, notably after his victory and subsequent training relationship with fellow heavyweight contender and seasoned kickboxer, Alistair Overeem. This was most notable in his demolition job of former champ, Junior Dos Santos.
While Blaydes’ style is technical and effective, Lewis adopts a more power reliant and wild approach. The glaring weakness in the Texans game is his lack of grappling pedigree, a whole which was further exposed in his failed title attempt to Daniel Cormier, about where we saw him taken down and controlled at will. Power however is certainly on his side. Lewis looks to draw guys into a brawl and detonate these TNT ridden hands right on his adversaries’ chin. He may not have a huge gas tank but do not be mistaken, that power is carried through 5 rounds and Curtis best have his wits about him for a potential whole 25 minutes. As we saw when Lewis fought Volkov, he was losing that fight for 3 rounds, Volkov was picking him apart and cruising to a victory, with 11 seconds to go he meets a Lewis right hand, goes down, and gets pummeled into the mat. I rest my case. The kicking game of Lewis is also deceivingly diverse. He often pulls a sneaky jumping switch kick out of his back pocket and can throw some nasty head and body kicks to catch guys off guard. As well as this, his ground and pound is a staple of his game and although not the grappler Blaydes his, all he needs is a mistake and positional gain, if he finds himself on top he will use his size to control and power to mash his opponent into submission.
Blaydes fought Mark hunt in 2018, a matchup which on paper, looks fairly similar to the challenge Lewis presents to him. He had to weather an early storm, avoid the power and then impose his wrestling-based game plan to control the rest of the fight. This is exactly what he needs to do in Saturday’s main event but you never know. Blaydes has much better hands now than he did when he fought Hunt, thus Derrick faces a much more versatile and dangerous fighter. Out of Lewis’ last opponents, I’d say Cormier has the closest style to Blaydes’ and we saw what happened there. Lewis had no answer for the imposing wrestling and was finished in the 2nd.
So, this matchup definitely does a lot more for Lewis than it does for Blaydes and Blaydes is definitely the betting favorite for a reason. Stylistically Blaydes is a very tough test for Lewis and it’s certainly a tall order to avoid that wrestling for a 25-minute fight. However, having said that, we know what Lewis does and we know what he’s about, he puts guys to sleep and he stops guys with raw power, Blaydes isn’t immune to this, he could easily be another name on Lewis’ highlight reel, this is the beauty of MMA. Styles make fights, a classic striker vs grappler matchup and on Saturday we shall see who edges ever closer to that coveted title shot!
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